The United States Navy has condemned Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Navy for pointing lasers against a US attack helicopter operating in the Persian Gulf.
According to a statement by US Naval Forces Central Command Spokesman Cmdr. Rick Chernitzer on Thursday, personnel aboard vessels belonging to the IRGC’s Navy pointed lasers at a US Marine Corps AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter while in flight, calling it “unsafe, unprofessional and irresponsible.”
The chopper, assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), was conducting routine operations in the international airspace of the Persian Gulf when the interaction took place on Wednesday, the US Navy said, explaining that “The aircraft is attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 (Reinforced), deployed aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), on a scheduled deployment to the Middle East Region.”
“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels shone a laser multiple times at the aircraft while in flight,” the Navy statement said. No one aboard was injured, and the helicopter was not damaged.
Warning about such acts by the Iranian military, Cmdr. Chernitzer said, “These are not the actions of a professional maritime force. This unsafe, unprofessional, and irresponsible behavior by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy risks US and partner nation lives and needs to cease immediately.”
Chernitzer noted that naval forces will “remain vigilant and will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows while promoting regional maritime security.”
This is the second time in six years that Iranian units have targeted a helicopter associated with the USS Bataan with lasers. In 2017, an Iranian naval patrol boat used lasers against a Marine helicopter moving through the Strait of Hormuz with three US vessels.
Iranian state media also reported in 2022 that the Iranian military was developing a laser cannon to shoot down aerial targets. In September 2019, Electronic Industries Organization of Iran announced it has succeeded to acquire the knowledge for the laser weapons technology, saying its laser weapons can destroy radar evading UAVs that are made up of composite layers.
Although Iran wants to highlight its laser weapon capabilities to target drones and cruise missiles, the directed-energy weapons including lasers are still at their experimental stage, and are not seen as practical, high-performance military weapons, because a laser generates a beam of light which needs clear air, or a vacuum, to work. The US-Israeli project for such a weapon was canceled in 2005 because of “its bulkiness, high costs and poor anticipated results on the battlefield”.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf region have intensified following a series of maritime incidents involving Iran’s seizure and harassment of vessels that prompted the US to strengthen its military presence in the region.
In recent months, Tehran’s military forces have tried to hijack several Western tankers in what is seen as retaliation for previous Western seizures of Iranian oil. In early-July, Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, opening fire on one of them, the US Navy said, adding that the Iranian naval vessels backed off after the US Navy dispatched a guided missile destroyer to the scene.
Iran’s introduction of advanced maritime weaponry prompted Washington to extend armed protection to commercial ships traversing the Strait of Hormuz. Later in July, the US Defense Department announced the deployment of additional F-35 and F-16 fighter jets along with a warship to the Middle East in a bid to monitor key waterways in the region following Iran’s seizure and harassment of commercial vessels.
Having found itself under US pressure in the Persian Gulf, Iran unveiled a series of what it called new maritime weapons in August. The IRGC held drills around three Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf contested by the United Arab Emirates and claimed that it has added a 600-kilometer-range new missile to its arsenal “for defending the islands’ territory.”